“Reincarnations” by Claire Simpson

1. American girl arrives in port city, China; 2004

 

I still remember stepping out, clutching

all we owned, inhaling salty air—

air streaked with smells ineffable. And their

eyes and ours brought from so far, now touching.

Windows to the soul. And manmade titans

scrape the sky, and vehicles of every

type you could imagine, packed conjointly

like us in our cab. And red flags, tridents

foreshadowing the mornings in the sun

in line, in uniform, and synchronized

with stiff salutes and voices lifted high

in praises of their country. All as one—

one sea of ebony that tried to shroud

our distinct heads of blonde hair and light brown.

 

2. American girl on life in Chinese city; 2013

 

I’ll tell the truth— sometimes I would forget

while riding in a tightly packed subway

that we were more than faces in the waves

despite how we tried to blend with the rest;

felt camouflaged— expression and our dress

now matching theirs. But we were wolves,

devouring their culture. Our own selves

becoming just like sheep to some success.

Their tones of black note musicality

spilled from our lips. We spoke another tongue

some time ago. But now we sing out hymns

unsung in that republic of the free,

that place where my heart used to run; but now

what once I thought was foreign is my home.

 

3. American? girl returns to the States; 2014-present

 

They welcomed me home, but didn’t know

my loss. I hadn’t brought back everything

while I was packing. No space enough for something

I’d grown to know so closely. And so

I study all my catalogued traditions

to pick and choose which custom is my own,

or rather, just survive. I’ll find the flow

and I’ll survive the waves. The conditions

demanding of me constant oscillation.

I see what is required for my projection—

I give appearance of full acclimation,

although my heart feels pulled in two directions.

“Where are you from?” the question that I fear;

“Where am I from?” I ask myself, unclear.

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